My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of friends and acquaintances wondering if they should replace their headscarves with hoodies. Muslim women afraid that they will bear the brunt of violent Islamophobic backlash to the San Bernardino shootings, as we have borne the brunt in most Islamophobic backlashes.
I’m sad and angry on your behalf, my dear Muslim sisters, that so many of you fear for so much for your safety that taking off your hijab seems like a viable option. Islamophobia is real and it is often gendered. Muslim women are typically the “visible” Muslims, and as such, are often victims of Islamophobic backlash anytime a terrorist attack or crime perpetrated by Muslims occurs.
I’m afraid, too. I live in a “red” area with local KKK activity. But what would taking off my hijab do for my safety? I can’t scrub off my skin color, burn straight my hair texture and strip it blonde. Nor would I want to. My skin, hair, features reflect my East African ancestors and I’m not ashamed of my ethnic origins, even if very few people in my mainly white, middle-class suburban town have positive feelings about Africans (if they think of us at all).
I don’t have any romanticized notions of hijab – it’s not the end all, be all of my religious identity. I don’t think it makes me a jewel, or puts me on a pedestal. And I barely think modesty has anything to do with veiling at all, because I believe that modesty is related more to taming internal arrogance; than external sartorial choice. Hijab is not a golden armor protecting a diamond nor a lollipop wrapper that keeps flies away; but for me it is a physical manifestation of my deepest beliefs.
Beliefs that ground me an in intimate, cosmic relationship with our Creator. Beliefs that connect me with all other other creation. Beliefs that are protected under our Constitution. Beliefs that are constantly under attack, as our own bodies are increasingly under attack. Take it off, keep it on, do what is right for you and your family, dear sisters. But please don’t be afraid.
Unveil your fear and take self-defense classes. Get to know your neighbors. Let your family and friends know your whereabouts. Volunteer in your community. Notify CAIR if you experience Islamophobia. Serve others. Tell your story – online, to your coworkers, in your local newspaper. Tie your camel, take your precautions – but please don’t be afraid.
We inherited the strength of our mothers Eve, Hajar, Mary, Aasiya, Bilquis, Aminah, Khadija, Aisha, and Zaynab, may God be pleased with them. We share the strength of our sisters Khawla bint al Azwar, Umm al-Darda, Rabia al-Adawiyya, Fatima al-Fihriyya, Queen Zubayda, Roxelana, Razia Sultan, and Nana Asma’u, may God have mercy on their souls.
These diverse women lived in different times. Some lived in splendor, while others let go of all worldly possessions. Some were rulers while others had been enslaved. Some were warriors, while others were academics. Some veiled their faces, while others did not cover at all. What unites them is a strong sense of self and a commitment to serve others. Their strength and bravery is embedded in the DNA of our Islam. We can’t control what others do, but we have agency over our own actions.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, my dear sisters. Please don’t be afraid.